Running game suffers biggest struggles since Colorado. Not only was it clear that Central Florida was the best team at stopping the run the Longhorns will face until a potential appearance in the national championship game, but the Knights also loaded up to the stop the run, daring the Longhorns to throw the football. So throw the football they did, to the tune of 470 yards by Colt McCoy. The concern, however, is that Texas didn't run the ball successfully after three straight games coming close to or exceeding the 60% success rate the coaches want to achieve. Against Central Florida, Texas rushed for 67 yards on 25 carries, with a success rate of only 50%.
There are certainly a lot of reasons for the lack of success. Much like the Colorado game, the coaches were relatively stubborn about using the basic running plays -- the counter and zone plays with some zone read sprinkled in, while eschewing the Monroe Series after the first play from scrimmage and choosing not to run the actual misdirection counter play and the draw play debuted on the first play against Oklahoma. Though Cody Johnson scored his first touchdown on an inside zone play, all of his other attempts on the play were stopped by the Knights -- it just doesn't make that much sense to have such a big back running laterally down the line of scrimmage. The easy adjustment here is to run the same plays from under center, where Johnson would have the ability to come downhill more on the plays and square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage, though that is, of course, unlikely. In the two times the coaches used the jet tempo package, however, the Longhorns did use play action both times, so they did break tendency there. Congratulations, GD!
The coaches also have to be careful with their substitution patterns when they bring Johnson into the game. As Greg Davis effectively moved between 11 personnel and 10 personnel while alternating Johnson and Whittaker at the running back position, Johnson coming into the game often meant a running play and he's just not good enough in the passing game to establish much of a threat, despite his 14-yard gain late in the game in which he broke several tackles and then moved the pile at the end. Improvement in the passing game and picking up the blitz should be major points of emphasis for Johnson in bowl practices.
It looks like Johnson will get the start against Baylor after Fozzy Whittaker came out with the ones against UCF, with Brown speculating that he may get 20 carries. The question is how those 20 carries come about. The I formation look hasn't been particularly successful this season and it just doesn't make a ton of sense to only have two receivers on the field if Antwan Cobb isn't going to split out at all as a receiver -- recall that there was some speculation in fall camp that he would earn the role of third-down back.
The fact of the matter is that the current scheme doesn't suit Johnson particularly well and if the coaching staff is really intent on giving him more carries, they have to figure out what plays consistently work. With the success of the jumbo package, which debuted some actual runs behind the left side of the line for the first time this year, and the possibility of bootlegs and some play-action passing, that might have to be more of an option on any short-yardage situations like 3rd and 3 or even 4 in the middle of the field.
Another adjustment in the receiving corps. Aren't there ways to get Marquise Goodwin the ball on the move? The freshman speedster had three catches on Saturday, all three of which got him the ball standing still, where he had no chance to use his speed or even avoid tacklers. The first came on an obvious screen pass out of a bunch formation with Shipley and Buckner that quickly got blown up because there were too many players in a small area. No idea what Davis was thinking on that play -- it had virtually zero chance of success.
The Longhorns have not run any slip screens for him that give him more momentum on the catch and also did not appear to run any slants, crossing routes, or deep routes other than clear-out go routes out of the empty set for Goodwin. The crossing route in particular may be intriguing given his ability to run away from virtually any defender -- neither Jordan Shipley nor James Kirkendoll have that kind of speed. It will be extremely disappointing if the coaches aren't more creative and/or assertive in getting Goodwin the ball so he can be effective -- after debuting Goodwin on the jet sweep against Oklahoma State, he did not receive a carry against UCF.
Perhaps the coaches essentially sabotaged Goodwin's ability to produce in order to have an excuse to re-insert Kirkendoll as the starter. The blocking effort from the local product has been much more better since his demotion, so that's great. He's also done a better job of making opponents miss in space to turn short passes into nice gains.
Mack Brown offered a pretty lame excuse for Kirkendoll's struggles after the Wyoming game:
I thought we probably worked James too much in preseason. Receivers run all the time in this heat. Jordan (Shipley) came out and didn't spend as much time out there. I'm not sure that James didn't hit a wall after Wyoming. He just got tired a little bit. We just need to get him some rest and shake it up a little bit. He played great on Saturday. He was one of the great performers during the ball game with his blocking. Our downfield blocking with our receivers was as good Saturday as we've had. We feel like now when Marquise (Goodwin) and John (Chiles) hit a little wall we can give them a little break. I think James is ready now with Malcolm (Williams) to make the stretch run here.
It's a lame excuse because Kirkendoll hasn't even gotten that much rest, as he and Chiles have both played heavily in the three games of their demotion, enough to pretty much call them de-facto starters with Williams and Goodwin. The demotion resulted in better effort from both players, but the questions about their ability to create separation still linger. After all, that was the main reason they lost their jobs in the first place.
The good news is that Malcolm Williams continues to play well. Though he did fail to attack the ball on the post route that should have gone for a touchdown, McCoy did underthrow the ball slightly and the defender did make a nice play to knock the ball loose. In the last two games, though, Williams has not had the type of out-and-out drop that he did against Missouri, catching the ball away from his body well on every play but the one mentioned above. After that play, McCoy went right back to him on a stop route and Williams used a ridiculous big brother-like stiff arm to make it past the first defender before nearly breaking another tackle on his way to 16 yards. It's that type of physical dominance and speed that gives Williams so much potential.
Jordan Shipley. It's difficult to put words to the type of performance that Shipley had against the completely overmatched UCF secondary. About the only thing that is easy to say is that the 53-yard catch he had late in the second quarter would have gone for a 93-yard touchdown had McCoy hit him in the stride after Shipley left a defender trailing and flailing on a double move.
It's probably the proper time, now that Shipley is the all-time single game receiving yards leader in the history of the program, to reflect once again on just how far he's come. After leg injuries kept him out of his first two seasons, Brown advised him that maybe his football career just wasn't going to happen. Though he may not have the pure speed he did in high school, Shipley never stopped working and, in fact, admittedly may have worked too hard coming back from his first injury, leading to some of the hamstring issues he experienced. Tell the guy to take a day off and he would probably look at you like you're crazy.
The bottom line is that Shipley will go down as one of the best receivers, perhaps the best, in the history of Texas football. A tireless worker and true student of his craft, "The Roommate" never seems to run a sloppy route or drop a football and is not only an incredible representative of his university and football program, but tops it all off with a heaping dose of genuine humility.
It's hard to imagine that Shipley will finally end his college career in January, but the good news is that if his younger brother really can run routes as well as his older brother and really does have the hands to match, as all reports indicate, he will have an extremely successful career as well. Let's just hope he doesn't have to endure so many injuries first.
Tracking: special teams play. Headng into the game, it seemed unlikely that the Longhorns would find much success in the return game, given their top-10 national rankings in both covering kicks and punts. Add in the fact that Texas wasn't likely to get many opportunities to return kicks and it seemed that the normal advantage Texas holds in special teams would mostly be negated. It turns out that was mostly the case. On the opening kickoff of the second half, the Texas wedge got blown up, limiting DJ Monroe to a 17-yard return. In the punting game, Texas had a little more success, as Shipley had an 11-yard return and picked up three on another -- his 14 yards nearly matched the 17 Central Florida had given up all season.
However, Shipley was only able to return two of eight kicks and the Central Florida punter, normally one of the worst in the country, managed to average 42.5 yards per kick, including a 70 yarder, and pinned Texas inside the twenty on four different occasions -- on the day, he was probably the best offensive weapon for the Knights, consistently flipping field position.
In the Texas kicking game, Justin Tucker, perhaps finally unleashed to put the ball in the end zone, had touchbacks on each of his last two kicks, while the coverage units played well with the exception of a 27-yard return. Antwan Cobb was the star, making tackles on consecutive kicks, while Aaron Smith also had a nice day in coverage.
On the negative side, Hunter Lawrence had his first bad miss of the season, missing well left on a 44-yard attempt. Certainly one miss isn't enough to cause concern, but it does ruin his otherwise perfect season (his other two misses came on a block and the 52 yarder that hit the cross bar against UTEP) in a week that saw him named a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the best place kicker in the country.
The other major negative was a shanked punt off the foot of Justin Tuckern, raising further concerns about the rugby-style of punting Mack Brown has adopted at the exclusion of John Gold. No doubt it will be something the coaching staff revisits this week. The Longhorns also did not come close to blocking any punts either, though it did not appear that the coaches really sent them after the quarterback, for unexplained reasons.
Overall, Brown sounded disappointed in the special teams as a whole after bragging about them so much over the last several weeks. Of the three phases, the special teams have the most room for improvement going up to Waco.
Behind the numbers. Some notes on the Central Florida game and the season to date. Also here.
EBS not only caught his fifth pass of the season, but also had six knockdown blocks in the game to earn the Boss Hawg Award.
- The defense had nine quarterback pressures, 13 hits on the quarterback, and seven sacks, the latter number representing the highest total this season.
- The defense gave up only 151 yards on 57 plays (2.6 yards per play), despite giving up 75 yards on the final drive, which came against mostly second-string players. UCF gained only 76 yards on 38 rushes -- 2.0 yards per carry. On the other nine drives by the Knights, it took them 43 plays to gain 76 yards, only 1.8 yards per play.
- Over the last six games, the Texas defense has given up 1.092 yards on 360 plays -- 3.0 yards per play. During that time, opponents have scored 58 points (9.7 per game) on nine scoring drives (six touchdowns, three field goals). That means that Texas has allowed scores on only 12% of 75 opponent possessions during that span.
- Texas leads the country in total defense (230 yards per game) and rushing defense (55 yards per game), while ranking in the top 10 in pass efficiency defense (94.61 rating/5th), tackles for loss (8.2 pg/6th), turnover margin (+1.0/7th) and scoring defense (12.4 ppg/8th).
- Opponents have scored more than 14 points only twice this season. In the last six games, no opponent has scored more than 14.
- The Central Florida game marked the fourth time this season the Longhorns have held their opponent to under 200 yards of total offense and the seventh time Texas has held their opponent to less than 100 yards rushing.
- The Longhorns also lead the country in scoring differential, having scored 369 points and given up 112. On average, then, Texas outscores their opponents by 28.6 points per game.
- After struggling against Oklahoma, McCoy has returned to his 2008 form: Over the last three games, McCoy has completed 75-of-94 passes (79.8%) for 910 yards (303.3 ypg) and six TDs (2 INT) -- a 177.9 pass efficiency rating. Excluding sacks, he's also rushed for 93 yards on 23 carries (4.0 ypc). He's led the Longhorns to scores on 15 (12 TDs/3 FGs) of 25 drives (60%) in those game.
- In the 117 years of Texas football, 43 of the 66 500-yard peformances by a Longhorn offense have come under Mack Brown.